Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Blue Trees in the Distance

Instead of doing the things on my huge to-do list, I fiddled with this photograph taken more than 20 years ago on the shores of Monterey Bay. The result reminded me of the work of some early 20th Century painters who also worked in woodcuts. Despite the intervening years, and even with a change of colors, the characteristic shapes of Monterey Cypresses are immediately recognizable.

I just got a copy of Lucien Stryk's 1989 book, Of Pen and Ink and Paper Scraps, published by Swallow Press at Ohio State University. This is the book that has a large center section of Stryk's translations of the Japanese haiku poet, Issa. The epigraph is from Robert Lowell's poem below, the four lines beginning with "But why not say what happened?" It's a beautiful poem, and reminds me to get back to the giant volume of his collected poems, which was edited by my beloved Frank Bidart. I got it immediately as soon as it was available. But my copy is still pretty crisp. It is the size of two bricks glued together, but not quite as heavy. Somehow it is easier on the wrists to read slender volumes of verse.


Those bless├Ęd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

--Robert Lowell--

from Day by Day, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1977.

It is the day of the April Fool! Which always reminds me of Kiyoko Tokutomi, who introduced me to haiku. Her husband, Kiyoshi, used to prank on this day, and after he died, she missed that. Here is one of Issa's haiku from Lucien Stryk's book. Page 32.

the grassy field--
departing spring.
Sleep well.

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